Coronavirus: Support pledge as unemployment claims double in Wales

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Ken SkatesImage source, Getty Images
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Coronavirus will have a "huge impact" on jobs in Wales, said Mr Skates

Everyone aged over 16 in Wales will be offered help to find work, self-employment, education or training, a minister has said.

Figures show the numbers claiming benefits in Wales have doubled compared with this time last year.

There were 118,600 claimants in the middle of May, equivalent to 6.2% of 16 to 64-year-olds, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures.

Economy Minister Ken Skates said the £40m scheme would bring "hope".

Claimant count by area in Wales. Proportion of population aged 16 to 64.  Claimants of Job Seekers Allowance and some Universal Credit on 14 May.

The local authority with the highest claimant rate was Newport with 7.5%.

There were 47,000 people unemployed in Wales during the three months from February to April - 4,000 fewer than the previous quarter and 22,000 fewer than the same period the year before.

Overall, 3% of people were out of work, compared with 3.9% UK-wide.

However the figures also show a fall in employment in Wales, by 15,000, compared with the same period last year.

Mr Skates told the Welsh Government's daily news conference on Tuesday that coronavirus "will have a huge impact on our labour market".

"We've given hope to businesses that have faced a perilous situation and now we are preparing to deliver hope to people who question whether the virus will steal them of livelihoods," he said.

"We will make sure everyone over 16 in Wales gets the offer of support and advice to find work, to pursue self-employment or to find a place in education or training."

Mr Skates said the plan would be funded from the Welsh Government's Economic Resilience Fund and was part of its covid commitment to the people of Wales.

'Falling off an economic cliff edge'

Plaid Cymru economy spokeswoman Helen Mary Jones called for action from UK and Welsh ministers to respond to the "coming crisis".

"We can't sit around discussing what might be needed when tens of thousands of people face falling off an economic cliff edge in August," she said.

The impact of lockdown is partially illustrated in the number of hours worked.

Between February and April there was an 8.9% fall in the number of hours people worked - a total of 94.2 million hours lost across the UK.

Image source, rrocio
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The full effects of coronavirus is likely to be seen later this year, according to David Jones

That is the largest decrease in hours worked since 1971.

Wales continues to have a high rate of economic inactivity - people not in work and not available for work because they are ill, caring for someone or in full time education - 23.2% of 16 to 64-year-olds in Wales are in this category, higher than the same period last year.

Only Northern Ireland has a higher rate at 26.7%.

Clwyd West Conservative MP David Jones said: "It's fairly clear the full effects of the virus and lockdown have not yet started to come through.

"It's most likely to start making an impact in August when furlough winds down.

"The biggest concern is autumn when it runs down completely. It's clearly not an optimistic outlook."

Looking ahead, he called for two-metre social distancing to be changed, saying businesses in his constituency were "worried sick" about it.

He added on BBC Radio Wales Breakfast: "Quite simply restaurants can't operate. If it was reduced to one metre, they could probably operate at 75% capacity. Two metres is an absolute killer for the industry."

'I just want to get back to work'

Image source, Owen Davies
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Fears over coronavirus led to Owen Davies losing his job

Owen Davies, 29, from Newport, had to leave his job working with porters at his local hospital, helping to transport patients.

While he described the job as "stressful", he said he enjoyed it, adding: "What happened was that I fell ill, I had to take a couple of days off just before the pandemic started.

"At the time my mum was in hospital having major heart surgery. So when this pandemic started she ended up coming home.

"My father has also got chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and I have a partner with asthma, so I had to make the decision to stay off when the lockdown was starting."

Image source, Getty Images
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Mr Davies has struggled to find new work because of lockdown

While he said he made the decision to protect his family, the agency he worked for gave him an ultimatum to "either come back or we are getting rid of you" and ended his contract.

He said it had a knock-on effect on his confidence and mental health, and added: "Being on Universal Credit as a lifestyle as a means to get by is not good, it's really stressful.

"I'm trying to get some normality back now and hopefully find something I can get up and running and start working again.

"I've pretty much had enough of this lockdown now and I just want to get back to work."

Mr Davies is currently being helped to find a job by the Prince's Trust and is hopeful they will get him a place on a Google IT course.

Analysis by Sarah Dickins, Economics Correspondent

With the information we've already had about the impact of coronavirus on the economy, the news that unemployment has fallen a little further in Wales might seem surprising and today's claimants figures may seem contradictory.

When you unpick the statistics a clearer picture emerges. The unemployment figures, just released, are for the three months from February to April and so only half of that period includes lockdown.

The claimant count however shows us the number of people claiming work related benefits on a specific day - 14 May, 2020. The increases recorded there are very significant.

We have also learnt today that across the UK job vacancies have fallen steeply. There's been a record decline in self-employed work and the number of hours worked have plummeted.

The unemployment figures that will be published next month will be more representative of what has happened in the workplace.

The evidence suggests that the furlough scheme, introduced by the UK government, has kept many millions of employees on the pay roll. That was the idea of it.

We will have to wait several more months before we will know the full impact of the pandemic on Welsh jobs.